NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The lobby of a community health clinic is full. Behind the doors are health care providers, but not enough. As a result, "We don't have as many appointments available," explained Peter Gergen, a certified physician's assistant for the East Texas Community Heath Center (ETCHC) in Nacogdoches. "Waiting times are longer. It takes longer to get in to see us. It takes longer to get an appointment to see us and that kind of shuts access to us."
At least there is a clinic. Numerous East Texas counties have fewer than one doctor per 3500 people. "Shelby County, San Augustine County, and Sabine County," lists Robin Moore, clinic director. Those are just some of the counties in the area she serves that's listed as health professional shortage areas by state reports.
Health care providers blame the shortage on a lack of incentives for medical school graduates to come to rural communities. "Student loan debt averages about $160,000," said Moore in a press conference held by the Texas Academy of Family Physicians. "Faced with such a burden the ever growing number of medical students choose more lucrative specialties than primary care," said Moore.
House Bill 1876 would establish a loan repayment program. It's for primary care providers who practice in under served areas for a full 4 years. "Funding for House Bill 1876 would come from restructuring of the tobacco tax, specifically closing a tax loop hole on the smokeless tobacco taxes," said Moore. Representative Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville is a joint author. Other east Texas representatives, including Wayne Christian of Center are supporting the bill as a way to improve health care in East Texas. They're asking for immediate passage as time is running out in the legislative process.
Other proponents say it will be money well spent. "Those people that have no insurance or on Medicaid or Medicare find it difficult to access health care," explained Michael Stevenson, a clinic patient who serves on the ETCHC board.
Texas needs about 520 primary care physicians in under served areas.